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Was The Birth Of Science The Death Of Superstition?

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Miguel Proença, born in Portugal 1984, is a documentary photographer that uses his photographs to comment on how society is now ruled by science and technology. The photograph by Miguel that I have chosen to analyze is the ‘Traditional Pagan Costume’. This photograph comes from his ‘Behind the Hill’ collection that contains photographs by him of people and places that relate to his interest in superstition, faith and nature. The photograph is of a child wearing a traditional pagan outfit that is very vivid in color (see picture below). With the photograph I have chosen by Miguel, as well as other supporting photographs, I am attempting to express my views on science in fact being the death of superstition. I will do this by commenting on the faith, superstitious and nature aspect of my chosen photograph as well as comparing them to his other photographs.

This photograph was taken by Miguel in Portugal, 2015. Miguel set out to capture Portugal’s spiritual healers, he started this in 2011 and continued it ‘til 2017, ‘shooting portraits, still life’s, and photographs of the landscape, which conveys a sense of place and carries the superstitions perpetuated by the ancient legends particular to each region’ (Miguel, 2018). This was what he answered when asked what he was out to capture on photograph. Given that Miguel is a documentary photographer, we can see how straight forward his images are and how there is an accurate and clear representation of the people, objects and events that he captured.

Looking at this photograph, our eyes cannot help but to be drawn to the child in the very expressive costume. Analyzing the mask, we can see that there is a cross on the middle of the forehead that can potentially symbolize quite a few things. Having come from a Christian background, the first thing that comes to my mind while looking at the red mask with a cross on it can be interpreted as a religious reference possibly symbolizing the blood that Jesus Christ shed on the cross for sinners. This photograph can also be understood as the child being masked by his religion. Looking at the picture the child looks lonely and misunderstood, all we know is that the child is Pagan hence the Pagan costume. The background of the picture seems dark and gloomy, the child seems to be very youthful ready to explore but is confined by his religion and traditions. Today, people still talk about putting on masks to hide our real identity. However, when we talk about it now, we do not necessarily refer to physically wearing a mask, we talk about it in the figurative form of hiding your true personality behind a fake persona that isn’t really your own. Putting into consideration that Miguel based his photographs on his interest in superstitions, faith and nature, we can also look at the mask from a more superstitious perspective.

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Masks are used in many superstitious ways, one significant way in which they are used is to intensify the feeling of horror. When a person puts on a mask you cannot easily identify them, this is because putting on a mask hides a person’s identity. Looking at Miguel’s other pieces from his ‘Behind the Hill’ collection, I found myself being intrigued by the one titled ‘Friday 13th’.

Friday the 13th for the past hundred years has known to be an unlucky day. Miguel capturing this photograph suggests that he too believes the superstition around Friday the 13th. Comparing the photograph of the young child in the costume to the Friday the 13th one, they both have a superstitious aspect. The child in the Pagan costume can appear as scary to a person that is not familiar with paganism and their traditions. The child is pictured holding a stick which makes them appear scary and intimidating. The child may be holding a stick due to his surroundings or just because of the nature of where he lives.

Nature is a very big contributor to my opinion on agreeing with Thomas Huxley’s statement that ‘Science was the death of superstition’. Although, in the photograph that I have chosen, the idea of nature playing apart is not very well portrayed as my chosen image focuses on the child in the costume, it indirectly tells us about the nature. Nature is one thing that we all can further research and come up with superstitions about. However, once educated scientists started telling us the facts that they decided, we as humans just listen and take it all in and very rarely question the information, they are giving us. The nature in this picture is not prominent, Miguel in this specific shot did not focus on the natural things that could have been in the background of the picture. However, the fact that is a child pictured in this very traditional outfit, it could be Miguel commenting on how from a very young age we are taught to believe in things for traditions sake instead of really forming our own identity.

Miguel uses this collection to display his interest in superstition, nature and faith. With this specific photo, he took a picture of something our society would easily overlook and not ask questions. Miguel’s photo also shows how people still practice very ancient beliefs while living in a 21st centaury world. ‘Proença set out to photograph individuals and scenes remote from our 21st century technological civilization. The result is traditional color photos masks, rituals and objects that offer their adherents and practitioners good health and prosperity…’ (Simon, 2019). Miguel Proença did an amazing job in documenting the life of people that still practice ancient beliefs. This is simply just my personal interpretation of his work and I’m sure he had his own.


  1. “English Dictionary, Thesaurus, & Grammar Help | Oxford Dictionaries.” Oxford Dictionaries | English, Oxford Dictionaries.
  2. Proença, M. (2019). Miguel Proença — Behind the Hill. [online] Miguel Proença.
  3. Muraben, B. (2018). Miguel Proença on his photo series capturing Portugal’s spiritual healers. [online] It’s Nice That.
  4. Photographers and Writers private photo review. (2019). Miguel Proença | Behind the Hill. [online] Private Photo Review.
  5. Simon (2019). Books & Boots. (2019). Miguel Proença – Books & Boots. [online] Word Press.
  6. The Photographers’ Gallery. (2019). TPG New Talent. [online].

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